Coups, procedure, & cultural senescence

Picking up from “Systems are living forms… They, too, are born and die,” I want to make a few notes related to the recent “reveal” that Trump sought to overturn the presidential election.

Where even to begin, though:

  • Uh, we know that Trump sought to overturn the presidential election; how many times can this be “BREAKING” news?
  • In any meaningful sense, Trump already did use arcane procedural mumbo jumbo to overturn the presidential election in 2016, when he lost by nearly 3 million votes.
  • George W. Bush used arcane procedural mumbo jumbo to overturn a presidential election even 16 years before that, and even if you’re determined to look for sinister scheming, that’s where to look, since after that point America just normalized using arcane procedural mumbo jumbo to overturn presidential elections.

Seriously this is just ridiculous that even “experts” in these matters won’t see past the obsession with Trump to recognize that everything alarming in the Pence/memo/coup story is long-established and accepted.

There is nothing fundamentally new in the Pence/memo/coup story. Overturning a presidential election through procedural mumbo-jumbo isn’t new. Scheming isn’t new. Even lining up goons to stage a riot with the intent of disrupting post-election processes isn’t new. Normalization and non-consequences for all this certainly isn’t new. What basis do people have for being shocked, here?

“Well the Electoral College is separate because” does not even work. “The Electoral College” is purely procedural mumbo-jumbo, a loophole created through accident and power-grabbing opportunism, which our culture unwisely normalized thanks in considerable part to a huge failure by some of liberal democracy’s purported leaders.

The Electoral College worked as designed two times (in 1788 and 1792) before nearly sparking a constitutional crisis in 1796. The “Electoral College” that exists—with winner-take-all, party-selected electors and prohibitions against faithless electors—is extra-constitutional. This and the related unnecessary and complex procedural machinery “create ample opportunities for candidates to pursue unorthodox but ‘technically legal’ approaches to ‘winning’ the electoral college.” The preceding hyperlink also describes the rich 1876 precedent of very intentional scheming and even threats of military intervention to manipulate the machinery, for the express purpose of overturning voters’ decision.

Nonetheless, until 2000, no precedent existed for this mumbo-jumbo to overturn a clear election result under universal adult suffrage (which did not exist by any credible definition until some time in the 20th century). The Bush campaign people didn’t believe that establishing such precedent was inevitable, either, and I would like to believe that it wasn’t. But it happened, and here we are.

America normalized overturning a presidential election through procedural mumbo-jumbo. America has, let’s be honest, passively accepted a fundamental principle that democracy is in practice a game in which voters’ approval is only one way to win: Voters have at times turned against Republican majorities in state legislatures and the US House but without result, courtesy of gerrymandering. A nationwide “blue wave” election in 2018 resulted in Republicans increasing their US Senate majority. Journalism, of course, describes our political system in terms of a game constantly.

How can people be shocked that a president schemed, with complete disregard for the concept of democracy, to overturn a presidential election through procedural mumbo-jumbo?

In one word, “brainworms.” In more words, it just seems like American culture is so hopelessly lost amid obsolete customs and concepts. Over centuries, onetime meaning and useful purpose have been obscured by symbols and rituals which no longer correspond even loosely to either reality or our purported values.

The applicability of Dead Memory, title included, seems more and more pervasive. In Dead Memory, everyone forgot words, but is forgetting meanings any less disastrous?

It just feels like very advanced cultural senescence. Cultural senescence may not be a permanent one-way phenomenon; Orwell believed that renewal was possible. I would say that even “renewal” means that some things reach their end and the rest of a larger system continues. The post-implosion fates of various empires through history suggest a range of possibilities. Rarely, though, is the transition free of wrenching disruption and often violence.

“Change occurs when systems reach their breaking point, and then it’s too late.”

3 Thoughts on “Coups, procedure, & cultural senescence

  1. My concern at this point is less about the inevitable end — I’ve been trying to think about what that might look like for decades — and instead for all the people who are still “surprised” about these “breaking” news stories, indicating that the collapse will completely blindside them. If other vaguely similar collapses afford any guide, poverty will skyrocket, as will alcohol-related deaths, deaths from disease, murders, and suicides. Lots and lots of people are going die because they’re heading into this with complete ignorance.

    • Another credentialed expert wrote, four whole days ago: “as someone who studies these dynamics for a living, I’m worried that the GOP is becoming irreversibly authoritarian.”

      That, of course, is relative alertness and directness. Generally, there is no leadership to speak of which isn’t either actively supporting the corrosion, or else talking around it. In that context I can’t blame most people who just follow along.

      I am increasingly resentful of those who have a platform yet—no matter how elevated—also choose to go along and perform their scripted part.

  2. Pingback: Getting a grip when nothing works | Matt Kuhns

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